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Library district divided over fee proposal; debate continues

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IDAHO FALLS – The Idaho Falls Public Library’s future relationship with the Bonneville County Library District remains uncertain after a public meeting Tuesday.

The library district and community members met to discuss the service agreement between the two entities, which is set to expire on Sept. 30. Contract negotiations have taken place every few years since the contract was first implemented in 1981. As part of this agreement, the county library district pays the city library an annual service fee so county residents can access library resources.

The contract became a hot topic last week after the library proposed that the county’s annual service fee should increase from $1.1 million to approximately $1.8 million. The library is basing this cost increase on the number of county residents who used the library during the last fiscal year.

The library‚Äôs total annual budget is about $3.6 million. The county is currently paying 31% of it, which amounts to $61.50 per household per year and is paid through property taxes. The library’s proposal increases the county’s contribution to 42%, which would increase it to $100 per year per household, equaling an additional $600,000 to $800,000 for the library annually.

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Jennifer Crofts, who resigned as Chair of the Bonneville County Library District last week, has since withdrawn her resignation. During Tuesday’s meeting, she said the library district has paid an average increase of 5.94% to the city over the last 15 years, which amounts to more than $11.4 million.

She also pointed out the number of library cardholders in the county has decreased 46% in the last five years and that circulation usage should not be used as the sole metric for determining the fee.

Crofts read a statement from City Attorney Randall Fife, which said “there is no case law or statute I am aware of that mandates … (using) any particular method of library fees (for a service agreement).”

“My general advice to the board on the general topic of fees is that any fee agreed to should reflect a reasonable, justifiable nexus between the cost of services provided and the fees charged so that the library fees are sufficient to avoid subsidizing another government entity,” Fife wrote, according to Crofts.

Other members of the county library district brought up similar points that support coming up with alternatives. But there is disagreement among each board member about the appropriate course of action.

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Idaho Falls Public Library file photo

Three counterproposals were presented during the meeting.

Crofts preferred method is to merge the city and county library districts into one district to create more “efficiency.”

“We will get way more for our buck if we join our resources together,” Crofts said, based on advice from the State Library Commission.

The second proposal is to implement a flat fee to ensure each party negotiates “in good faith” and continues a relationship with library services that are “based on relevant factors.”

“That was our last contract. That’s what we agreed on,” Trustee Karen Harris said. “There’s a lot of factors that are relevant … but never does it say one (sole metric). Population, the number of people who have a card or the number of households in the county versus the city are other relevant factors and every time you do a calculation on those numbers, you get a number lower than $1.8 million.”

Harris feels this option is in the best interest of county residents and she is willing to increase the fee by another 5.9% based on the average trend over the last five years. That would bring the county’s total annual service fee to $1.2 million.

“In order to do that, we’d still have to raise the household fee (which would require) a public hearing,” says Harris.

The third proposal is to leave the county fee at $1.1 million.

The library is concerned about financial equality in this process and wants each party to pay its fair share. Harris argues one way of reaching parity is for the library district to pay the fee they’re comfortable with and leave it up to the library to determine how to reach parity on the other end.

“If they (don’t want to) have a contract with us, then they would run on what they’re given from the city which is $2.3 million. Or they could have a contract with us and get $1.2 million and determine what they want to match with it,” says Harris.

Rebecca Blackson is the only member of the library district that is in favor of renewing the contract under the library’s terms. She feels that’s the majority opinion from people in the county and wants to continue the relationship while working to find a separate, private means of getting a library in Ammon.

Ammon City Councilman Scott Wessel was in attendance at the meeting and he told the crowd they’ve wanted to expand City Hall to make room for a library for several years and he believes there would be interest in making that happen.

A final decision on the service agreement has not been reached. The library district is planning to continue its discussion and come up with a unified proposal they can all get behind. It will be discussed during a public meeting on March 18.

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